Nice ink.

January 22, 2015

Temporary tattoo.

A team at the University of California found a way for diabetes patients to monitor their glucose levels using temporary tattoos. They created a “flexible sensor that uses a mild electrical current to measure glucose levels in a person’s body.” No needles required. The new device is painless and costs “just a few cents.”

You may want to sit down for this.

On average, Americans sit for 13 hours each day. The body is not designed to be idle, but many of our jobs require us to sit in front of a computer screen. Long periods of sitting are linked to an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Why is sitting so bad? A number of reasons. One is that we burn less calories when we sit. Another is that sitting for a long time leads to metabolic changes in the muscle. Or it may impact the way we respond to insulin.

What can you do? Go for a quick walk at lunch time. Stand up for a few minutes every half hour. Suggest a walking meeting or go to a co-worker’s desk to ask a question you might typically email. They’ll love the interruption, especially if they’re extremely busy.

 16 and (not) pregnant.

For five years, America’s teen birth rate has gone down. Between 2007 and 2013, the number of babies born to teens each year fell by 38 percent. This drop occurred along with “steep declines in the abortion rate,” suggesting that the drop isn’t due to more teenagers terminating pregnancies. It’s simply that fewer girls are getting pregnant.

The thing is: No one really knows why.

Many agree it’s a good thing. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school. Most teen mothers do not receive financial support from their child’s father, and almost half live below the poverty line.

Pizza pie.

A recent study found that pizza is the second highest calorie source – second only to desserts like cookies and cakes – in the diets of kids aged 2 to 18. Nutritionists encourage parents to cut back as pizza can be high in calories, especially when its heavy on cheese and fatty meats, like pepperoni.

Tray or pie? I grew up in Scranton PA, where we order our pizza by the “tray.” I’m told that in most places, it’s called a pie.

Vitamin C.

There’s really no evidence that heavy doses of Vitamin C help to fight a cold. A review of nearly 30 studies of people with colds who take the normal daily dose of vitamin C found that it reduced the colds’ length by 8 percent. So if your cold lasts five days, it might be shortened by about 10 hours. For the most part, taking extra Vitamin C doesn’t hurt, but there are some risks associated with mega-doses. Take it easy on the Emergen-C.

Ebola update.

Worldwide. As of January 20, the CDC estimates there are 21,724 cases and 8,641 deaths due to Ebola. The number of new cases is declining in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, the countries worst affected. Finally.

In Mali. On Monday, Mali was declared “Ebola-free” after 42 days without reporting a new case.

In Guinea. Meanwhile, the government in Guinea set a goal to rid the country of Ebola by mid-March. The number of new Ebola cases has fallen in Guinea, where the outbreak began a little more than a year ago. Schools there reopened Monday.

FYI. A map of Mali and Guinea. I needed a reminder.

The flu.

Flu activity in the U.S. remains high. A total of 45 kids died from the flu in the 2014-15 season. The CDC estimates that the vaccine reduces the chance of getting the flu by just 23 percent. Not the best year for the vaccine, but still worth getting.

That sounds familiar.

Precision medicine. President Obama promoted it in his State of the Union on Tuesday. What is it? According to the White House blog: “…an emerging approach to promoting health and treating disease that takes into account individual differences in people’s genes, environments, and lifestyles, making it possible to design highly effective, targeted treatments for cancer and other diseases.”

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You look great.

January 9, 2015

 Hold the fries.

It’s New Years Resolution time. There’s a lot of news about diets.

The top-ranked. U.S. News & World Report evaluated 35 diets, giving points for the following: easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss, and protective against diabetes and heart disease. Their number one pick? The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), which is not a fad but a sensible and healthy way to lose weight. Weight Watchers and the Mediterranean Diet were also in the top 5.

Veganuary. This is a real thing. The global campaign encourages people to give up meat, eggs, and dairy and become a vegan for the month of January. Note: I tried to be a vegan once and lasted 3.5 days. It’s hard. And cheese is delicious.

The kindness diet. A recent study suggests that hearing accepting messages can improve the chances of dieting success for women who want to lose weight. Women who received supportive feedback in response to their weight concerns were more likely to maintain or lose weight. Those who didn’t or who heard negative responses gained weight.

The cleanse. This term has been applied to a huge range of diets, from those that replace one or two daily meals with smoothies to the more extreme types like the Master Cleanse.To date, there’s no solid science backing any of these cleansing or detox approaches for weight loss or health.”

However. We have good intentions. But, the grocery store bills tell another story. A new study found that Americans buy greater quantities of high-calorie food from January to March than they do at any other time of year. “During the holidays, people bought, on average, 440 more calories per week than their baseline. But after the holidays, that jumped to a whopping 890 extra calories per week.” Unbuckle.

 It’s pretty bad.

The flu continues to spread in the U.S. this season, with 43 states experiencing either high or widespread flu activity.

What can you do? Get the vaccine, it’s not too late. Wash your hands. And if you’re sick, stay home. Here’s a list of binge-worthy shows to help you pass the time.

Flu tracker. Turns out there are plenty of apps that help you track the flu in your neighborhood.

A new rule. New York City is requiring preschoolers to get the vaccination. The rule was passed by Mayor Bloomberg but this is the first flu season during which it applies. New Jersey and Connecticut also require flu vaccines in children between 6 months and 5 years.

 Cassandra C.

Yesterday, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that a 17-year-old girl with cancer, identified as Cassandra C., must continue treatment with chemotherapy against her will. Although she is still a minor, she had asked the court to allow her to make her own medical decisions, despite doctors’ recommendations to receive the treatment. Cassandra was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma four months ago.

Why people die early, by country.

Click here to see a map.

Ebola update.

The Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa. According to the World Health Organization, at least 8,235 people have died and more than 20,700 have become ill since the outbreak began last year. The chart “Ebola trends: death toll rises while U.S. interest wanes” tells the story.

Clinical trial. Scientists have started testing an experimental drug for Ebola, called brincidofovir, in a hospital in Liberia. The drug has previously been used to treat patients with Ebola in the United States, like Thomas Eric Duncan, NBC cameraman Ashoka Mukpo, and Dr. Craig Spencer.

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Not your TIME.

December 23, 2014

 The flu is here.

The CDC reported that the flu is widespread in 29 states. (click here to see if your state is one of them). This time last year, it was widespread in only four. Eleven children have died as a result. Earlier this month, we learned that much of the influenza virus circulating in the U.S. has mutated, and that this year’s vaccine is not as effective as we hoped. However, it’s recommended that you get your flu shot as its still the “best way to prevent the flu.”

 Surgeon General Murthy.

Last week, the Senate confirmed Vivek Murthy as the U.S. Surgeon General. The confirmation took a little longer than expected. Murthy was nominated by President Obama over a year ago in November of 2013, but the NRA is against Murthy as Surgeon General because he has publicly criticized guns and the NRA. They pushed back on the nomination and helped delay it.

Who is Dr. Murthy? The 37 year-old hospitalist practices at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School. He co-founded the group Doctors for America in an effort to organize physicians who support Obamacare. He is also a bachelor who practices yoga and eats carrots.

What does the Surgeon General do? The surgeon general is the nation’s spokesperson on public health issues, like smoking and obesity. Past surgeon generals used their role to draw attention to important issues. For example, the surgeon general’s report on the harms of nicotine in 1960 began a movement for warning labels on cigarettes and tobacco taxes.

 Just give me one minute.

I need to work out. A new study found that one minute of intense exercise, embedded within an easy 10-minute workout, can improve fitness and health. Researchers asked 14 overweight, sedentary men and women to complete an interval-training program of three sessions a week for six weeks. Each 10-minute session consisted of three 20-second “all-out” intervals, during which riders pushed the pedals as hard as they could. After six weeks, their bodies changed. The volunteers increased their endurance capacity by an average of 12% and had healthier blood pressures. The male volunteers also improved their blood-sugar control. Ok, so it’s not just one minute. It’s one minute of really pushing and nine minutes of coasting. Give me 10 minutes.

Ebola update.

Worldwide. The World Health Organization reports that more than 7,000 people have died from Ebola. More than 19,000 have been infected, with over 99 percent of all infections and deaths in three countries – Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

A long fight. After returning from a weeklong trip to the three affected countries, Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said “I’m hopeful about stopping the epidemic, but I remain realistic that this is going to be a long, hard fight.”

 Put the Cosmo down.

Why is it that the magazines at your doctor’s office seem a little outdated? After hearing patient complaints about this, the authors of a new study in the British Medical Journal were curious. They placed 87 new and new-ish magazines in a New Zealand waiting room. After 31 days, nearly half of the planted magazines had gone missing, an average of 1.3 magazines disappearing each day. The “gossipy magazines,” defined as periodicals with more than five pictures of celebrities on the cover, were more likely to vanish than news magazines like TIME and The Economist. 

 Chicken pox.

Angelina Jolie was forced to skip the premier of the movie Unbroken because she has chicken pox. Adults can get chicken pox, and “it seems to be much more aggressive and severe in adults.” She still looks amazing.

Too bright.

The use of electronic devices before bed can impact your sleep. A new study found that “when individuals use a light-emitting device in the hours before bedtime…it takes them longer to fall asleep. They feel more sleepy the following morning. They have less REM sleep. The light suppresses their melatonin, which is the sleep-promoting hormone, by more than 50 percent. And their melatonin rhythm was more than an hour and a half delayed. So that amount is pretty large.”

‘Tis the season. My favorite season.

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‘Tis the season.

December 8, 2014

 More veggies, please.

Good news about the Mediterranean diet. A new study found that women who ate a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, unrefined grains, olive oil, fish, and moderate amounts of wine had longer telomeres, which are biomarkers of aging. Generally, healthy eating was also associated with having longer telomeres, but the strongest association was found among those eating the Mediterranean diet.

What’s a telomere? Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes. They get shorter as we get older and can also shrink as a result of certain behaviors, such as smoking.

What is “moderate alcohol consumption?” Up to one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men. For those who like a heavy pour, note that a serving of wine is 5 ounces.

If you want to learn more about the diet, click here.

1.86 children.

For the sixth year in a row, the number of babies born in the U.S. has dropped. In 2013, 15 to 44 year old women gave birth to an average of 1.86 babies over their lifetime, a record low. It’s estimated that 2.1 are needed for a stable population. One possible reason is that women under the age of 30 are delaying motherhood until they are older. On a personal note, so are some women over 30.

One more finding.Twin births are more common and represent about one in every 30 births in the U.S.

 Ebola update.

 In the U.S. No new cases in the U.S. this week.

Worldwide. As of December 4, the CDC estimates that there are 17,290 total cases and 6,128 deaths. The outbreak is currently spreading fastest in Sierra Leone, where many patients are having a tough time finding care.

Ten things. The CDC published an easy-to-read document called “Top 10 things you really need to know about Ebola,” including that dogs and cats are not spreading Ebola and that Ebola is not airborne.

 Break the revolving door.

 New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a plan to change the way the criminal justice system deals with people who are mentally ill. Their goal is to “break the revolving door” of arrest, incarceration and release that keeps many in the system for minor offenses. “What we have been doing to try to keep mentally ill offenders from cycling in and out of the system has not worked well enough,” said Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. The city has allocated $130 million over 4 years to the effort.

 Getting better.

From 2010 to 2013, hospital-acquired conditions declined by17%, resulting in about 50,000 fewer deaths and savings of $12 billion. The improvement initiative began in 2011 with funding from the Affordable Care Act and was driven by growing concern about serious healthcare quality problems in the U.S.

What’s a hospital-acquired condition? Hospital-acquired conditions arise during a patient’s stay in the hospital. Examples include pressure ulcers, surgical site infections, and fall-related injuries while admitted to the hospital.

 Health care costs.

The U.S. spends more on health care per person that any other country in the world, at $2.9 trillion or $9,255 per person in 2013. Quick comparison: Japan spends about $2,878 per person per year. Some good news. Last year, healthcare spending in the U.S. grew at the lowest rate ever recorded – 3.6%.

 Obamacare, Explained.

This regular section explains the Affordable Care Act, one bite at a time.

 How many people have signed up? More than 10 million people got health insurance coverage from September 2013 to September 2014, bringing the rate of uninsured from 17.7% to 12.4%. About 300,000 more signed up the last week of November, as the new enrollment period began.

How did they get coverage? Some signed up through health insurance exchanges, some through the expansion of Medicaid in 27 states plus Washington, D.C., and others through employers because of the tighter rules on who must be covered.

 It’s mutating.

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective as they hoped because the current strain of the virus has mutated. The CDC still recommends getting the vaccine. While this year’s version is not as protective against a mutated strain, it can still protect against other strains of the virus.

During the 2012-2013 flu season, 12,337 people were hospitalized with flu-related illness and 149 children died. The CDC estimates that 90% of those children were not vaccinated.

 Remember to take your carrots.

 Some health care providers in New York and Boston are “prescribing” fruits and vegetables for their overweight patients as a “startlingly simple idea to deal with a complex problem.”

 Worth a listen.

On NPR’s “Fresh Air,” Terry Gross interviews two doctors who wrote a book called “The New Puberty” about the increasing percentage of girls who are going through early puberty.

‘Tis the season.

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Over medium.

November 21, 2014

 The Incredible. Edible.

Because of their cholesterol content, egg yolks were once considered off-limits for many. The advice on the yolk has changed. Research shows that dietary cholesterol has minimal impact on blood cholesterol. That said, the American Heart Association recommends that we limit our dietary cholesterol to 300milligrams (mg) per day. One egg has about 200 mg.

 Ebola update.

 In the U.S. No new cases have been reported this week.

 Worldwide. As of November 14, the CDC estimates that there are 15,145 total cases of Ebola and 5,429 deaths.

Looking for the cure. The Gates Foundation is giving $5.7 million to fight Ebola. They plan to work with private sector organizations to research and produce a cure.

 Obamacare, Explained.

This regular section explains parts of the lengthy Affordable Care Act. This is a weekly newsletter (and I skip some weeks). It will take a very long time (especially if I keep skipping weeks).

 Pre-existing conditions are the term for medical conditions people have when they’re looking for health insurance. Think diabetes, asthma, cancer, and even pregnancy. Before Obamacare, health plans could deny or charge higher prices to people who had them. Under Obamacare, insurance companies can’t ask about health status. They can factor in three things when setting a rate – age, location, and tobacco use.

P.S. The enrollment period is here. It began on Saturday and lasts for about three months. The website seems to be working. Phew. You may recall that there were some issues last year.

 Oops. It turns out the White House made a math error. They overreported the number of signups under the Affordable Care Act by nearly 400,000 people. Some people with separate medical and dental plans were counted twice, so the administration reported that 7 million had enrolled in coverage, instead of the correct figure of about 6.7 million.

 That sounds familiar.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). A type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons and usually occurs during winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. Symptoms include: sadness or anxiety, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, and changes in weight. Feels like winter is here in Bosotn. Sad. Treatments include light therapy, talk therapy, and antidepressant medications.

Causes of death in the U.S. Then and now.

The New England Journal of Medicine looked back over a century to see how the causes of death in America have changed. They certainly have changed. Teaser: in 1900, a leading cause of death was pneumonia or influenza. Check out the chart. “In many respects, our medical systems are best suited to diseases of the past, not those of the present or future.”

 Teeny tiny bites. Nibbles.

 For 31 years. Since 1983, gay and bisexual men in the U.S. have been banned from donating blood. That may change. This month, a recommendation was made to rethink it and the FDA will decide on December 2.

 Chin up. Looking down at your phone is not good for your spine. It adds excess stress, up to 60 pounds of pressure, depending on the angle.

That’s trillion, with a T. The global cost of obesity is estimated to be $2 trillion per year. Almost 30% of the world’s population is obese.

Cooties are for real. Serious kissing (lasting more than 10 seconds) can transfer about 80 million bacteria.

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21 days.

November 7, 2014

Ebola.

 In Texas. As of today, the 21-day monitoring period for those who came in contact with the three people diagnosed with Ebola in Texas – Thomas Eric Duncan and nurses Nina Pham and Amber Vinson – comes to an end. The state breathes a sigh of relief.

In NYC. One U.S patient remains in isolation. Craig Spencer is a Doctors Without Borders volunteer who was diagnosed when he returned from caring for Ebola patients in Guinea. Spencer is being treated at New York’s Bellevue Hospital. He is in stable condition and has started to pass the time by playing the banjo. 

Worldwide. As of October 31, the CDC estimates that there are 13,567 total cases of Ebola and 4,960 total deaths.

Donations by country. Click here to see a chart that displays Ebola aid pledged by country.

One option. Facebook users can send money to one of three Ebola-relief charities using a donation button that went live on the site this week.

Brittany Maynard.

Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old suffering from terminal brain cancer, ended her life on Sunday. Maynard was diagnosed with a stage 4 malignant brain tumor in January and given six months to live. Last month, she announced that she planned to end her life at her home in Portland, Oregon, with help from her doctor. In an op-ed, she wrote, “After months of research, my family and I reached a heartbreaking conclusion. There is no treatment that would save my life, and the recommended treatments would have destroyed the time I had left.”

Death with Dignity Act. In 1997, Oregon enacted the Death with Dignity Act, which allows terminally ill residents “to end their lives through the voluntary self-administration of lethal medications, expressly prescribed by a physician for that purpose.” Similar laws exist in Washington and Vermont. Maynard’s death brought attention to the debate about physician-assisted suicide nationally.

Obamacare, Explained.

This regular section explains parts of the Affordable Care Act. This is a weekly newsletter. It will take a very long time.

The individual mandate requires most Americans to purchase health insurance coverage. It encourages people who are unlikely to buy coverage, like healthy twenty-somethings, to find a health insurance plan.

Are there any exceptions? Yes. For example, exceptions are made for those who can’t find an affordable plan or are a member of a federally recognized tribe. But, most Americans are now required to purchase coverage or pay a penalty.

What is the penalty? In 2014, the penalty for not having coverage is $95 or 1% of income, whichever is larger. It will increase in subsequent years. In 2015, it rises to $325 or 2% of income. The federal government collects the money through the tax filing process.

 Please remove the mini Twix bars from my home.

The Halloween Candy Buyback program, founded by a Wisconsin dentist, offers to buy candy for $1 per pound from the patients in his office. Word is spreading. This year, more than 2,500 dentists and orthodontists across the country are participating. The treats are shipped to U.S. troops overseas.

I feel a cavity. This year, Halloween candy sales in the U.S. were expected reach an estimated $2.5 billion, an increase of about 1.8% compared to last year.

Fall risks.

As the population ages, the number of older Americans who fall and suffer significant injuries is on the rise in a serious way. In 2012, more than 2.4 million people over 65 were treated in emergency rooms for injuries from falls. Falls are the leading cause of injury-related death in people over 65.

There are ways to decrease the risk. Like tai chi and avoidance of sleeping pills.

FYI. While osteoporosis is more common in women, men are also at risk.

A big difference.

In October, Massachusetts became the first state to require price tags on health care. A new law forces private health insurers to provide prices of services, from office visits to surgical procedures. One example of information gathered: The cost of an MRI of the upper back in Boston ranges from $614 to $1,800.

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The proposal.

October 24, 2014

Ebola.

In America. Last night, an American physician who recently returned to NYC from West Africa tested positive for Ebola. Craig Spencer, 33, had been treating Ebola patients in Guinea with Doctors Without Borders. Yesterday, he developed a fever, nausea, pain and fatigue. He is in isolation and being treated at Bellevue Hospital, one of the eight New York hospitals designated as part of an Ebola preparedness plan.

Some good news. Amber Vinson is one of the nurses who cared for Thomas Duncan, the first U.S. patient with Ebola. She is reportedly free of the virus.

New travel restrictions. New restrictions were placed on travelers from West African countries with Ebola outbreaks. They are now required to report their temperatures along with any other potential symptoms of the disease daily for 21 days.

 Worldwide. As of October 22, the CDC estimates that there are 9,935 total cases of Ebola and 4,877 total deaths.

Pause. That’s adorable. A 3-year old Ebola survivor in Sierra Leone proposed to his nurse. She accepted, of course.

 Uber shot.

Yesterday, the car-service Uber delivered flu shots to anyone in Boston, New York, and Washington DC. The one-day UberHEALTH pilot program drove registered nurses to inject the vaccine to anyone who requested. For free. No insurance required.

That reminds me. Get your flu shot.

Tell-o-me what?

Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened soda can age the body just as much as smoking. Stick with me here. About to talk biology. Telomeres, which are the caps at the end of chromosomes, get shorter as we get older and can also shrink as a result of certain behaviors, such as smoking. Shorter telomere length is associated with a higher risk of heart disease and some cancers. A new study found that people who drank soda tended to have shorter telomeres. A daily 20-ounce serving was associated with 4.6 years of additional telomere aging, the same damage previously found among regular smokers. Water please.

Obamacare, Explained.

Bit by bit, this regular section summarizes key components of the 11,000+ page bill.

Enrollment period. The period of time during which individuals who are eligible can enroll in a qualified health plan using the Marketplace. For coverage starting in 2015, the open enrollment period is November 15, 2014–February 15, 2015.

Small problem. A recent survey found that 76% of uninsured adults don’t know when the health care law’s open enrollment period starts.

Is that right?

This month, Oregon became the first state to offer drugs that delay the onset of puberty for transgender adolescents enrolled in Medicaid. While the treatment is new, its becoming a standard in care for transgender teens. In 2009, the Endocrine Society published a best-practices guide for treating transgender teens that includes the use of puberty suppressants.

 Fast fact.

Costly. A stress test is a screening tool used to test the effect of exercise on your heart. A new study found that inappropriate use of cardiac stress testing is costing the U.S. health care system more than $500 million a year.

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Viral.

October 17, 2014

 Virus 1. Ebola.

In America. A second nurse at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital was diagnosed with Ebola on Tuesday. Amber Joy Vinson helped care for Ebola patient Thomas Duncan of Liberia who died last week. She was transferred to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for treatment.

Vinson was on a flight from Cleveland to Dallas on October 10, before she had symptoms. Officials are currently tracking passengers on that flight.

Worldwide. As of October 12, the CDC estimates that there are 8,997 total cases of Ebola and 4,493 total deaths.

Ebola fighters. Click here to see the number of health care workers infected with Ebola by profession. Hint: Nurses are in the lead.

A little donation. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg donated $25 million to the CDC to help the agency fight Ebola.

Virus 2. Enterovirus D-68. 

Enterovirus D68 (EV-D68) is one of 100 enteroviruses that causes minor to severe respiratory illness. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, body aches, and wheezing. The U.S. is currently experiencing an outbreak of the virus. So far this year, there have been nearly 800 confirmed cases in 46 states and at least 2 children have died as a result. Youth with asthma are particularly at risk.

There is currently no vaccine for EV-D68. The CDC recommends hand-washing and is telling parents to pay close attention to kids with asthma. 

 Virus 3. The flu.

 More likely. According to the CDC, flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the U.S. range from 3,000 to about 49,000 people annually. Even so, during the 2013-2014 flu season, only 46% of Americans received the flu vaccine. Get your flu shot.

 How many miles?

A new study found that when teens saw how long it takes to burn off the calories in a sugary drink, they tended to buy smaller sizes or not buy it at all. Researchers put colorful signs on beverage packaging in low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore. The most effective label? The one that said it would take 5 mile walk to burn of the calories in the drink.

 Obamacare, Explained.

Hold the yawn. The Affordable Care Act is long, but I’ll keep this short.

No charge for that. Obamacare requires health insurance plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptives, including the Pill, the ring, the shot (Depo-Provera), and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Before Obamacare went into effect in 2012, 15% of insured women got free birth control pills. Today, it’s nearly 70%.

A few exceptions. On June 30, the Supreme Court decided that the birth control mandate violates certain religious freedoms. Three types of businesses are not required to provide insurance plans that cover contraceptives:

  1. Houses of worship like churches and synagogues.
  2. “Closely-held” private companies that have an objection to contraception
  3. Institutions with a faith-based mission like hospitals or universities

Oops. Despite the law, CVS has been charging women for birth control. Illegally. They realized the error and plan to refund the 11,000 affected customers.

 Is that right?

 The Silicon Valley companies Facebook and Apple will offer a new benefit to employees: egg-freezing. Egg-freezing allows women to delay fertility until they’re ready to become parents. The procedure is pricey. Apple and FB are covering up to $20,000 in costs.

 Fast fact.

 Reported this week. Life expectancy in the U.S. in 2012 rose to 78.8 years, up from 78.7 years in 2011. On average, women live longer (81 for females and 76 for males).

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Apple season.

October 9, 2014

 “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” –Proverb

 According to a 2013 study, prescribing an apple a day to adults 50 and over could prevent or delay around 8,500 vascular deaths, like heart attacks and strokes, every year in the UK. The “brilliantly clear and simple public health advice: ‘An apple a day keeps the doctor away’… shows how effective small changes in diet can be, and that both drugs and healthier living can make a real difference in preventing heart disease and stroke. While no one currently prescribed statins should replace them for apples, we could all benefit from simply eating more fruit.”

It’s apple season. Enjoy.

 EBOLA.

In America. Despite “maximal interventions,” the Ebola patient Thomas Duncan passed away on Wednesday at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, 10 days after he was diagnosed. Duncan had the first case of Ebola diagnosed in the U.S. The CDC reports that so far, Duncan’s potential and confirmed contacts in Dallas remain healthy. However, a Dallas County sergeant who was in Duncan’s apartment was rushed to the hospital on Wednesday to be monitored for possible exposure.

The Epidemic. As of October 5, the CDC estimates that there are 8,033 total cases of Ebola and 3,865 total deaths worldwide.

U.S. airport screening begins. Five U.S. airports will screen the temperatures of passengers entering from three West African countries hit by the Ebola epidemic to asses for fever, one of the symptoms of the illness. The five airports are: JFK in New York, Newark, Washington Dulles, Chicago, and Atlanta.

 Dental not included.

Dental insurance is not a required benefit in most health plans. “Despite the fact that dental procedures are some of the most expensive office visits, dental coverage is treated like a garnish—the parsley of the insurance world.” More than 800,000 annual ER visits are due to preventable dental problems.

DMD shortage. In some states, even those with benefits have a hard time finding a dentist. There’s a significant shortage in some areas, mostly rural.

 Obamacare, Explained.

This will be a regular section that aims to explain parts of the 11,000-page law. This is a weekly newsletter. It will take years.

 The mandate for small businesses. Under the Affordable Care Act, companies with 100 or more employees are required to offer coverage for their full-time employees beginning in 2015. They have two years to phase up to provide insurance to 95% of their workers. Companies with 50 to 99 employees have until 2016 to start the coverage. Smaller businesses are exempt.

One way to deal. Several LA restaurants are tacking an “Obamacare surcharge” (some up to 3%) on to customer bills to offset the cost of employee insurance. Some diners are not happy.

 Medicated meat.

Antibiotic overuse is a problem in this country. But it’s more than just too many unnecessary Z-pacs for your cold (colds are caused by a virus which do not respond to antibiotics). Farm animals consume as much as 80% of antibiotics in the U.S., which are given to promote growth and prevent disease. The concern is: animals consume the meds, and then we consume the animals and the medications they have been given. Which apparently is a lot.

Is someone doing something about this? The White House ordered the creation of a task force to address antibiotic resistance. And last year, the FDA created a policy to phase out the “indiscriminate use” of antibiotics in cows, pigs and chickens raised for meat.

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Super fast.

Super fast fact.

On Saturday, Dennis Kimetto of Kenya set a new world record when he won the Berlin marathon. The 30 year old ran 26.2 miles in 2 hours 2 minutes and 57 seconds. His average mile pace: 4 minutes, 41.5 seconds. Wow. Afterward, he remarked that he could have run faster.

 It’s here.

The first case of Ebola has been identified in the U.S. and is being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian. The patient came to the U.S. from Liberia on September 19, with no symptoms at the time. He became ill several days later and is now in critical condition. The CDC is currently tracking his contacts as the disease is contagious. They assure us that they will control the case and “stop it here.”

The Epidemic. Ebola has infected 6,553 people and killed 3,083 in the three countries hit hardest – Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The CDC estimates that the disease could affect up to 1.4 million people by January if its not controlled.

 Ahhhhhhhhhh.

Are diet sodas bad for us? The debate continues. A new study found that diet sodas may alter the mix of bacteria in the gut in a way that increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes in some people. Both mice and humans who were exposed to aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose (three popular artificial sweeteners) had higher rates of glucose intolerance. How it’s happening isn’t clear and more research is needed, but this is an important finding. Darn it. I have a soft spot for an ice-cold diet coke.

Healthcare in Hollywood.

Ever wonder if the cast of Grey’s Anatomy is making any medical sense? It turns out they have help. The organization “Hollywood, Health, and Society” was established in 2001 with funding from the CDC. Their goal is to provide the entertainment industry with “free and accurate health care information.” The group has worked with writers from Breaking Bad, Law & Order, Parenthood, Grey’s Anatomy, Doc McStuffins and more. Television makes an impact, so making sure the message in correct is important. In one study,viewers’ knowledge that treatment could lower the risk of HIV transmission from mothers to children increased significantly after watching a TV show.

Obamacare, Explained.

This regular section contains information about the Affordable Care Act, nicknamed Obamacare after the president who signed it into law in March of 2010.

One of the main goals of Obamacare is to expand access to health insurance. About 40.7 million Americans were without insurance in 2013.

How do people gain health care coverage through Obamacare?Most people gain insurance in two ways: the insurance exchanges and the Medicaid expansion.

  1. The exchanges are online marketplaces where consumers can compare and purchase plans. Healthcare.gov is one exchange, and you may recall there were some technical difficulties during its opening weeks.

So far. As of last week, 7.3 million people signed up for coverage through the exchanges.

  1. Under Obamacare, about half of states are expanding Medicaid to cover more families. Medicaid is the state-run program that covers low income Americans.

So far. As of last week, 8 million Americans have signed up through Medicaid.

 That sounds familiar.

Intra-uterine device (IUD). Considered to be one of the most effective forms of birth control, an IUD is a small T-shaped device that is implanted into a woman’s uterus for long-term pregnancy prevention. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed the IUD as “first line contraceptive choices for adolescents,” replacing the birth control pill, which needs to be taken every day.

 Pretty pricey.

Check it out. This world map shows just how costly healthcare is in the U.S.

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